20 October 2014

The Reform of the Daily Office - Part 2

What is the purpose of the Office?

In the first part of this series, I gave a brief overview of the reform of the Office in the Western Church, and discussed the concept of the Cathedral Office, the revival of which has never really occurred in widespread practice. At the conclusion of that post, I posed a series of questions.

Today I explore the first, and quite possibly the biggest question... what is the purpose of the Divine Office?

While answers could (and have!) taken up hundreds of pages, the cliche answer, 'the sanctification of time' still works as well as any other answer that one can develop. From the earliest days of Christianity, some form of daily prayer was understood to be a part of the Christian's walk. The Didache specifically mentions offering the Lord's Prayer three times daily, which seems to roughly correspond to the morning, afternoon, and evening temple prayers referred to in the Acts of the Apostles. This parallels the practices of both the Psalmist (Ps. 55:17) and Daniel (Dan. 6:10) in the Old Testament. Of course, there is also the example of David, who said that he praised God seven times daily, but at the moment I don't wish to focus so much on how many hours to pray as to why we pray at fixed times.

When state that we keep the hours for 'the sanctification of time' we are called to remember that we, while servants of an infinite God, are people who live lives governed, to some extent, by clocks. It doesn't matter of that clock is the intricate motions of the sun, moon, and earth in an annual cycle, or the flipping of the seconds on an iPhone app, time is passing, and we along with it. Each moment we live, we continue our journey down the river of faith that leads us, ultimately, to our heavenly home.

That said, the journey is fraught with distractions, disruptions, and yes, sinful inclinations. Left to our own devices, we would often neglect to spend time in thanksgiving and prayer. We are not the best at keeping Christ in the forefront of our minds. Yes we, baptized and renewed people, can still be distracted by a multitude of earthly enticements. That doesn't mean the enticements are intrinsically evil, mind you, just that they are distractions at times. Thus, the discipline of fixed hour prayer - regardless of the number of hours we keep, is intended to ensure that our focus is recalled on a regular basis to the blessings of God, who, to this day, reaches out to us when we reach out to him. In this way, we sanctify time.

Fixed hour prayer is not a panacea that will alleviate all trouble, distraction, or concern - but it is a powerful tool to keep our minds and hearts fixed on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.

In my next post, I'll consider the question: How many hours are appropriate to keep?

02 October 2014

The Reform of the Daily Office - Part 1

In the latter decades of the twentieth century, and into the twenty-first, the Daily Office has enjoyed something of a resurgence in popularity among Christians. Long felt to be the duty of monks and the clergy, who were obligated to offer the lengthy prayer offices (in other languages in some traditions), the use of the Offices enjoyed great popular use only in the Church of England and her daughter Churches as both Morning and Evening Prayer became cornerstones of typical parish worship. Often rendered by exquisite choirs, the words of Evensong became melodious companions to generations of the English.

In the wake of the Second Vatican Council, fresh revision was made of the Roman Rite's hours. But, in many ways, the Roman Breviary as it exists today still feels more monastic in root and purpose, which is unsurprising, considering the history of Office in western Christian practice.

Anciently, the Western Church's Office was known in two forms - Cathedral and Monastic. The Monastic Office, largely structured after the Rule of Saint Benedict, included a weekly recitation of the complete Psalter, lengthy readings - both Scriptural and Patristic - and eight stops along the journey of the day to offer the Opus Dei, the Work of God. Over time, the Monastic form exerted influence over the prayer life of the clergy in Rome, and from there, the general structure of the Offices took on a distinctly more monastic feel for secular clergy. The transition largely shut the laity out of full, active, and conscious participation of the Office, reducing their presence to mere attendance whilst they focused on their private devotions.

The Cathedral Office, however, was of much simpler form. A smaller corpus of psalmody was used, in order to allow the people to become familiar with at least a few psalms. Since, in the so-called Cathedral Office was intended as corporate prayer for all the people, it made sense for it to bear a mark of noble simplicity, having lavish symbolism to enhance the experience. Large candles were borne in procession as the sun set, incense was burned, and other ritual elements could be added to both teach and enrich.
In the process of the liturgical reforms of the twentieth century, it was often hoped that a Cathedral style Office would be produced, but few firm examples actually surfaced. Several Roman Catholic hymnals produced texts that could be considered Cathedral Offices (GIA and OCP both tend to include something resembling such a form in their publications - at least in their publications up through a decade ago; I have no newer hymnals to examine and see if this is still the practice); but their nature does not, strictly speaking, fulfill the obligation of the clergy to offer the Daily Office, and they are not actual authorized liturgical texts of the Church.

Three notable attempts at Daily Office reform are to be found 'down under' (to us North Americans, anyway) - they are the orders for Daily Service from An Australian Prayer Book (1978), A New Zealand Prayer Book - He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa (1989), and A Prayer Book for Australia (1995). These three texts appear to share a common heritage, and, while I don't know enough about the history of these Offices to know if they were designed with the intention of serving as a Cathedral Office, their simplicity of form and structure ultimately leaves one with the feel that these offerings are well on the way to meeting at least some of the goals of a Cathedral Office in contemporary liturgical use.

Additionally, while not strictly an Office form, I would note that the fourfold Daily Prayer for Individuals and Families published by the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod in Hymnal Supplement 98 and Treasury of Daily Prayer, as well as the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod's Morning, Evening, and General Devotions in the Christian Worship line (not to be confused with the orders for Morning Praise and Evening Prayer) are likewise steps in the right direction.

In order to determine the best way to move forward today in crafting a form of the Office that will truly become a Prayer of the People, several questions need to be asked concerning the keeping of the liturgical hours:

1) What is the purpose of the Office?

2) How many hours are appropriate?

3) How long is too long, and how short is too short?

4) How shall we treat the Psalter?

5) Is the Office a form of Bible Study, a Devotional, or something unique?

6) How much variety is required, and how much is simply a vain attempt to make the Office artificially interesting?
Over the next few weeks, I hope to write several posts covering the six questions I just asked. I hope you'll join me and offer your own feedback and considerations. I also hope you'll consider sharing your experiences with the Daily Office.
Stay tuned... this could get interesting!

18 April 2014

Homily for Good Friday 2014

My brothers and sisters, we have just heard proclaimed in our midst Luke’s account of Jesus suffering and death. Words are often insufficient to truly parse the meaning of what we have just received into our minds and hearts, so I will, out of respect for the gravity of today’s readings, speak to you in my own words, and with a few borrowed words, only briefly…

What you are about to hear might, on some level, challenge the way you think about our Lord’s Passion and Death. I offer these words to you, not because what you may already hold in your heart and spirit concerning Jesus’ death is wrong, but because if you have not fully comprehended the depth and dimension of what we solemnly commemorate here today, then you are missing the point.

Today’s observance brings to our mind, and rightly so, extremely painful thoughts. Thorns… whips… nails… blood… death… All this is part and parcel of the Good Friday experience.

But if we focus on the thorns, whips, nails, blood… if we focus on the death, and that is the end of our experience, then we have totally missed the point.

The point is not the suffering.
It's the love that was willing to endure such suffering.
It's important to remember this.

Today, we will behold the cross and, through ritual, express our connection to the love that gives the cross meaning, the sacrificial love that was willing to expend itself that we might have life.

We will receive that same blood, together with the body from which it was spilled, as we partake of the Eucharist.

We do this because of the selfless, sacrificial love of Jesus.

It's important to remember this.

Note: The words in italics in the preceding manuscript are drawn, with permission, from a Facebook post by the Reverend Peter Pearson. He has graciously granted permission for his profound and meaningful words to be used in this Homily.

17 April 2014

Homily for Holy Thursday 2014

Everything is powered by something. Our bodies are powered by the food we consume. Our cars and much of our civil infrastructure is fueled by oil, coal, and natural gas. The ecosystem of our planet is, at its root level, powered by the sun. Everything that exists derives its root energies from something.

The same thing is true in the mysteries we celebrate today. Something empowers us and the mysteries of our faith. That something is sacrifice.

Without sacrifice, there is no sacrament.
Without sacrifice, there is no salvation.
Without sacrifice, there is no love.

For us as believers, it is the power of sacrifice, of Christ’s sacrifice, that empowers us, and all that we do. Or, at least, it should be.

It is Jesus’ sacrifice that gives meaning to the servant act of washing feet. Without his sacrifice, Jesus is being a kind host, one who goes outside of what is socially required to welcome his guests… but when touched by the power of his sacrifice, this servant act becomes one of great transformation – one which is able to melt through the pride that was building in the heart of a man who had, in the last several years, witnessed countless acts of selfless service.

It is Jesus’ sacrifice that gives meaning to the emblem of bread. Without his sacrifice, Jesus is eating a meal – certainly one of great significance – but still a meal… but when touched by the power of his sacrifice, this loaf of bread becomes the means by which the cosmos is restored and renewed to fellowship with its Creator, the broken body of the incarnate Word.

It is Jesus’ sacrifice that gives meaning to the element of wine. Without his sacrifice, Jesus is slaking an earthly thirst in the context of a time-honored ritual… but when touched by the power of his sacrifice, the contents of the cup become the blood outpoured, by which the lentils to the door of our hearts are marked. Our restoration is rooted in this Blood ‘shed… for the forgiveness of sins’.

It is a heart, mind, and spirit attuned to sacrifice that transforms common elements, religious ritual, and printed word into a life-giving connection with the Eternal God who so deeply desires a new birth for his creation.

What does the power of sacrifice do to, for, or in you? How does Christ’s eternal sacrifice actually affect your life? Is this something you have stopped to consider lately? Is it something that enters into your daily consideration of how you live your life? Is it vital to your understanding of yourself and your place in the world? It should be, for without sacrifice, you and I truly have no life.

When, in our lives, we respond to God and reach out to others in faith, we do so by the prompting of the Spirit, who applies the power of Jesus’ eternal sacrifice to our lives… to humble us, to renew us, and to restore us to full fellowship with him and with one another.

On this day, which is different from every other day, we hear again of the establishment of the New Covenant, a covenant which is sealed through blood of sacrifice shed on the cross. May this sacrifice be the sacrifice which empowers us today, impelling us both to an ever-increasing faith, as well as to service to God, and to one another.

The preceding Homily was preached in the Naphtali Isaac Eskenazi Sanctuary at Eskenazi Health on Thursday, April 17, 2014.

05 March 2014

Homily for Ash Wednesday 2014

You may not recognize it from the snow and ice over the weekend, but spring is here. Oh, I know that the equinox isn’t for a few weeks yet, but forecasters talk about meteorological seasons. Meteorological spring begins on March 1 by their logic, and so if you permit me, I am going to take the liberty of declaring today to be the first day of Ecclesiastical spring.

Along with entering into spring comes the impetus to engage in some cleaning. Trust me, in a few weeks, when the weather actually catches up with what the forecasters are calling this time, you’ll see plenty of ads for big box retailers promoting their spring cleaning lines. They’ll become as ubiquitous as the ads for Filet ‘o Fish sandwiches are today. Mops and brooms and organizing solutions will go flying off the shelves as bachelors and housewives, dads and retirees all seek to make good on the promise of a sense of accomplishment, a clean house, and perhaps some organization in their lives.

What you may be unaware of is that spring cleaning has among its roots a deeply religious reason – the requirement of purging all leaven from ones’ home during the feast of Pesach, what we know today as the Jewish Passover. This means that every trace of yeast, all leavened products… everything that is not classified as Passover Kosher – yes, there are two kinds of kosher! – have to be purged. For the serious Jewish family, spring cleaning is a religious act. The fridge and stove are pulled out, crevice tools reach into areas so finite that it seems impossible for a bread crumb to have gotten there… but it’s cleaned nonetheless! Special pots and pans are brought out. Passover-only dinnerware is used. Some families even go so far as to have a Passover-only stove, oven, and fridge! Even the kids, on the night before Passover, get to go hunting for the last bit of leaven. All that, because they don’t want to run even the remotest risk of having any leaven in their homes for the Passover and the subsequent Feast of Unleavened Bread.

But why?

Biblically, leaven is used repeatedly as an illustration for sin. In the Old Testament leaven is consistently used to represent sin, falsehood, and evil…In the New Testament, leaven was used by Jesus himself to represent the false teachings of the Pharisees and the lack of faith on the part of the Sadducees Saint Paul boldly challenges the Corinthian Church to celebrate the feast, ‘not with the old bread of wickedness and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.’

I am not suggesting to you that you need to go home this afternoon and purge out your loaves of Wonder Bread or toss your yeast packets into the garbage… but I am suggesting that you take today as the chance to embark on a journey towards Eastertide in which you will go into those crevices, the places perhaps you don’t think to examine for sin, and to challenge yourself to allow Christ into those areas in your life.

We need to take time to reflect on our sinfulness because, to be honest, sometimes our sins have become either so completely hidden in the cracks, or have blended so surreptitiously  into our lives, that we no longer take notice of them.

I grew up with my grandmother. Until the day she had a stroke and went into the hospital for the last time, she smoked… and for most of the years I lived with her, you couldn’t tell the difference between her and the 6:15 bound for Topeka. After she died, when I decided to sell the trailer she had left me, I went to go clean it up. There was plenty of stuff that was in obvious need of removal… her old clothes, kitchen supplies, Kleenexes under furniture… the obvious things. But I hadn’t been in the house for a while, and something just didn’t smell right. So I decided to wipe down the walls, thinking that, perhaps, some mold or something had grown. What came off the walls was truly disgusting. Decades of smoke had clung to the walls, subtly discoloring EVERYTHING. I grew up in the house. I moved in on the day she closed on the house… I lived there for fourteen years before I left for work and school… I came back and lived there for three more years as her health declined… and I had become so completely accustomed to the discoloration of the walls, the curtains – the white curtains that I always thought were yellow! – that I was shocked… simply shocked.

My brothers and sisters, there are things in our lives that we know we need to clean up. There are many sins we take to the Lord, fully realizing our need for his mercy and grace in them. And yet, how often do we go deeper? Do we allow ourselves to settle for mediocrity in our efforts to clean up our lives? If we do, I can promise you, with absolute certainty, that the things we refuse to examine, the crevices we refuse to clean, will eventually begin to quietly erode at our life of faith.

In this Lenten season, therefore, as we gather today to receive the sign of ashes and to be nourished in Word and Sacrament, I invite each of you to observe this time with great devotion and attention to your spiritual needs. I invite you to seek out the counsel of a wise and loving pastor if you find yourself struggling – with sins that are great, or sins that are small. Above all, I invite you to reinvigorate your relationship with the only one who can possibly make anything out of what we do here today, Jesus the Christ, who died for our justification; the one who sends the Spirit into our midst to convict us, to apply mercy, and to draw us ever closer to himself.

To God be glory, now and forever. Amen!

All original material (C) 2007-2010 by Father Robert Lyons.

  © Blogger templates 'Neuronic' by Ourblogtemplates.com 2008

Back to TOP